The Baylor and Kentucky matchup doesn’t look like much on paper with the best team in the country favored by eight points, but there are several interesting possibilities to make this more of a game than you might imagine.
Baylor has the length and athleticism to compete with Kentucky. Quincy Acy had 20 points and 15 rebounds on Friday and is primed to do more damage against the Wildcats starters. Perry Jones III came out of his shell in the second half and proved what a force he can be when he becomes engaged in the contest, something he doesn’t always to. Pierre Jackson is a play-maker (with sometimes questionable shot selection) and Brady Heslip can get white-hot while barely handling the ball (15 for 25 behind the arc in the NCAA’s). Baylor has to take the ball at Anthony Davis early and do what Indiana did, get him in foul trouble.
If I’m a Wildcat fan, I’m at least a little nervous and here’s why. On the season, Kentucky has held opposing teams to 37.5 percent shooting. In their last five games, the lowest they have held an opposing team was 40.3 percent and Florida and Indiana both have shot over 48 percent, which at least suggests the defensive intensity is waning. Baylor shoots 47 percent as a team and 38.5 percent from downtown (thanks Marv). However, this Kentucky team oozes skill and confidence and whatever is necessary is accomplished. This is Baylor’s second Elite 8 in three years and for the second time; they have made it this far without playing a team seeded with single digits, until now.
Based on recent form, it’s fairly remarkable Kansas or North Carolina is going to make a Final Four. The Tar Heels overall talent finally took over in OT against Ohio U., but Roy’s boys looked as uncomfortable as 10-year old in a suit and tie without Kendall Marshall at point guard.
For the last spot in New Orleans, this is fascinating viewing because of the all question marks. Can Marshall play and if he does, can he have any impact? Will Roy Williams add more to Stilman White’s plate and let a more natural offensive flow occur, instead of bringing Harrison Barnes or John Henson above the free throw line to start the half court offense? Will any Heels player realize that Tyler Zeller is open more than they realize and pass him the ball down low?
On the Kansas bench we find a team that shoots 34.6 percent from beyond the arc, but might not be able to throw the orange in the nearby Mississippi River, connecting on just 22.2 percent in this tourney beyond the arc. Will the Jayhawks need special goggles to improve their long-range shooting? Will both Jeff Withey and Thomas Robinson be able to stay out of foul trouble and play UNC’s big men to a draw? And will Tyshawn Taylor be more careful with the rock and commit fewer turnovers and shoot the ball better?
Somebody will take the trip to the Crescent City, but who?